PUBLISHED: Jul 1, 2024

Exploring the Impact of Google AI Overview: What Does it Entail for SEOs

Shahid Abbasi

Google has always been at the forefront of AI technology, and recently, it has made significant strides in the generative AI space by introducing its Gemini model.

Announced at Google I/O 2024, Gemini is a versatile and powerful AI model that supports multimodal functionalities — meaning it can process and understand a combination of text, images, audio, and video inputs. This enables more comprehensive and context-aware AI applications​ across various Google products and services, including and especially Google Search.

Gemini has been developed in three versions — Ultra, Pro, and Nano — catering to different levels of computational needs, from heavy-duty servers down to mobile devices, making it highly scalable. The model benefits from the latest improvements in Google’s Tensor Processing Units (TPUs), specifically the v4 and v5e, which enhance its performance and scalability​.

Now, the AI Overviews feature in Google Search is an evolution of Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), which marked an early stage of integrating generative AI into Google Search, focusing on handling complex queries and delivering richer search results.

Unlike SGE, AI Overviews capitalizes on the Gemini model to enhance the search experience by providing quick, comprehensive summaries of search topics, incorporating relevant links for deeper exploration along with multimedia content. This has reportedly improved user engagement and satisfaction with search results.

Overall, AI Overviews aims at improving the efficiency of search by reducing the time users spend piecing together information from multiple sources. It is a part of Google’s broader initiative to make search more intuitive and helpful, allowing users to access and understand vast amounts of information with ease.

In the post, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of the evolution and implications of Google’s AI Overviews in the context of SEO and content marketing.

The Advent of Google AI in Search Technology

The integration of AI into Google Search is marking a transformative period in how information is queried and retrieved on the internet. This evolution from traditional keyword-based searches to AI-driven insights is fundamentally changing the searcher’s experience by delivering more accurate and contextually relevant results.

Here’s how this transition is unfolding.

Traditional search technologies primarily relied on keyword matching, where the search engine looked for pages that contained the keywords typed by the user. However, this method often missed context and the true intent behind a user’s query. The advent of AI in search technology, particularly through Google’s use of large language models like BERT and later models such as MUM and Gemini, has shifted this paradigm. These AI models understand the nuances of language and can interpret the deeper meaning of phrases within the user’s query, leading to insights that are not just based on keywords but on the contextual understanding of the query.

In fact, while generative AI results are a recent development, Google’s search algorithms have continuously evolved in the past decade to incorporate more advanced AI techniques. For instance, RankBrain, introduced in 2015, was the search giant’s first AI introduction. It was built to understand the intent behind search queries by analyzing previous searches and their outcomes.

Initially, Google’s algorithms focused almost entirely on links and keywords, but later updates integrate sophisticated AI to analyze the quality of content, its relevance to the query, and even the reliability of the source — all behind the scenes.

Now, models like MUM and Gemini can process information across multiple formats and languages, allowing Google Search to deliver comprehensive and highly relevant answers that consider various aspects of a user’s intent and contextual clues.

By analyzing a multitude of signals such as past search behavior, location, device type, and even the phrasing of the query, Google’s AI can infer what the user is most likely seeking. For instance, when a user types “apple,” the search engine must determine whether they mean the fruit or the technology company. AI enhances the ability to make these distinctions, improving the accuracy of the content delivered.

Jump forward to May 2023, Google rolled out its Search Generative Experience (SGE) — now known as AI Overviews (coming out of the beta phase about a year later) — in line with its ambition to further integrate AI innovations that will expand the SERP’s efficacy and retain Google’s dominance as the search engine giant.

For the first time, the Google SERP is creating new content based on all the indexed websites data — not just curating and organizing existing content — to give users fast and exact answers to their search queries right there on the SERP.

With AI Overviews, Google is revamping how users engage with brands on the SERP:

  • Enhanced Branded Content Discovery: AI-generated snippets and summaries boost the visibility of authoritative brands, making it more likely for their content to be featured prominently in search results.
  • Semantic Search Enhancements: AI Overviews improve how it matches user queries with brand content by understanding the semantics behind the content, thereby increasing the likelihood of discovery and interaction.
  • Cross-Referencing Capabilities: AI Overviews uses cross-verification techniques to ensure facts and figures are accurate, drawing from multiple sources to bolster reliability and accuracy.
  • Intent Recognition: By analyzing the context of queries, AI Overviews can more accurately discern user intent, leading to more relevant and trusted responses.
  • Sentiment Analysis: This feature allows AI Overviews to grasp the emotional tone of queries, aiding in the fine-tuning of the responses it provides.
  • Conversational AI: This technology enables a two-way conversation between the user and the search engine, mimicking human-like interactions that can enhance engagement rates.
  • Dynamic Content Presentation: AI Overviews generate dynamic content such as instant answers, comparative overviews, and interactive elements, which engage users more deeply than static search results.

So, AI in SERP is not the future anymore. It is the here and now.

The question is: how will it impact SEO and content? Let’s get into that.

The Influence of Google AI on SEO and Organic Traffic

Kevin Indig’s analysis of 1,675 keywords shows AI Overviews could reduce organic clicks, particularly for queries where users seek quick answers. This reduction is due to the comprehensive summaries provided directly in the search results, which can satisfy user queries without the need to click through to a website​.

The frequency of appearance of Google AI Overviews varies by sector too. For instance, In the health vertical, AI Overviews appeared in 42% of the queries analyzed. This is substantially higher compared to the 16% found in eCommerce verticals, indicating that AI Overviews are more likely to show up for complex queries (long tail), which are common in the health sector​.

There were also instances where some AI Overviews delivered more traffic to cited sites​. Plus, AI Overviews are more likely to appear alongside other SEO features like People Also Ask and Featured Snippets. This suggests that these types of informational search features are indicators of the kinds of queries that might trigger an AI Overview.

How Google AI Overviews Could Reshape SEO Best Practices

As the SERP evolves and we embrace AI-generated content being displayed on it, we can speculate how the best practices around SEO and content marketing could also evolve.

On-Page Optimization Techniques Tailored for AI Summaries

AI systems like Google’s AI Overviews prioritize well-structured content that can be easily parsed and understood. To optimize for AI summaries, you should use clear headings, subheadings, and bullet points to outline key information. This structured approach helps AI systems to quickly identify and extract the most relevant information for AI-generated summaries​.

Since AI Overviews aim to provide quick and authoritative answers, ensuring that content is both comprehensive and factually accurate is more important than ever. Including verified statistics, recent data, and expert quotes can increase the chances of being featured in AI summaries. This not only aids in being recognized by the AI as a reliable source but also helps in standing out in the AI-generated content.

Furthermore, with AI Overviews more likely to trigger for complex and long-tail queries, optimizing content for these types of searches becomes crucial. This involves understanding the context and intent behind queries and integrating those insights into the content, not just through keywords but by addressing the underlying questions or problems the users might have​​.

Implementing structured data through advanced Schema markup can also help in enhancing how search engines index and understand the content of a page. By providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page via Schema (such as articles, star ratings, and event listings), you can facilitate richer indexing by AI systems. This not only improves content visibility in search results and featured snippets but also optimizes it for features like AI Overviews, where accurate data parsing is essential for generating reliable and contextually relevant summaries.

Finally, keyword optimization will still remain a critical element of on-page SEO. The right keywords help AI understand the context and relevance of content, influencing how it is indexed and presented in search results. However, the approach needs to be nuanced — instead of keyword stuffing, the focus should be on using semantically related keywords and natural language that reflects how real users ask questions and search for information. This strategy aligns with the AI’s ability to interpret and fulfill search intent more effectively.

We found a couple of Google Chrome extensions that can help.

Google AI Overview Impact Analysis is an extension designed for SEO professionals to analyze the presence of AI Overviews in Google search results. You can input an unlimited number of keywords to track AI-generated responses, viewing details such as keyword lengths, cited links, and the domains most referenced in AI Overviews.

The tool offers functionality for domain-specific searches and provides downloadable reports in Excel for comprehensive analysis. This extension aids in enhancing SEO strategies by providing insights into how content is featured in AI Overviews, complete with data-driven visuals and automated search capabilities.

Google AI Overview Citation Analysis is another extension that analyzes the differences between links cited in Google’s AI Overview section and those in traditional SERPs. It enables users to compare these resources side-by-side in a table, and view domain presence in a doughnut chart, highlighting the share of citations per domain.

The data can be easily downloaded to a spreadsheet and includes a dynamic SERP table that updates as you scroll. However, it’s limited to simple formats of AI Overview and may be affected by changes in Google’s SERP source code.

Off-Page Optimization: Building Authority in the Age of AI

The authority of a source now plays a more pivotal role than ever. A robust backlink profile that signals trustworthiness and relevance to the AI algorithms is essential. This involves acquiring links from reputable sites within the same niche, which helps in establishing a site’s authority and reliability. This factor is crucial as AI systems evaluate the quality of content and the authenticity of the information provided​.

Moreover, as AI tends to feature content that is frequently cited by other authoritative sources, forming partnerships and getting mentioned by industry leaders is beneficial. Regularly engaging in industry discussions, webinars, and public forums where your site can be cited as a source of reliable information might increase the chances of being featured in AI Overviews​.

Although social signals are not a direct ranking factor, there’s an indirect benefit to having active social media engagement and content sharing. High user engagement can lead to increased visibility, more backlinks, and potentially higher trust, which are critical in an AI-driven SEO landscape. Engaging content that is widely shared and commented on can signal to AI that the content is valuable and trustworthy​.

Addressing Challenges and Misconceptions with Google AI

One of the primary challenges with Google AI is ensuring that the information it disseminates is accurate and reliable. To combat misinformation, Google does have rigorous fact-checking protocols and sources verification processes. It is crucial for the AI to pull data from credible and authoritative sources to maintain the integrity of the information provided in search results.

Even so, humorous queries pose a unique challenge for Google AI, as misinterpretation can lead to responses that might be inappropriate or offensive.

In fact, there have been plenty of instances where AI Overviews have failed spectacularly, leading to significant backlash across the social web.

Here are just a few such examples of AI Overviews spitting out ridiculous results, as reported by users:

These are funny, dangerous, and inaccurate — clearly, AI Overviews have a long way to go.

Liz Reid, VP and Head of Google Search, addressed concerns about AI Overviews, affirming their positive impact on user experience and quality of traffic to websites.

Google believes that, on the whole, AI Overviews have improved the search UX.

While they admit the occasional odd results, Google alleges that a lot of the inaccurate results were fake screenshots posted for fun on social media. For instance, the ones about leaving dogs in cars and jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge are supposedly not true.

“Some of these faked results have been obvious and silly. Others have implied that we returned dangerous results for topics like leaving dogs in cars, smoking while pregnant, and depression. Those AI Overviews never appeared. So we’d encourage anyone encountering these screenshots to do a search themselves to check,” explains Liz.

However, it’s tricky to prove or disprove these claims as the occurrence of AI Overviews have reduced following all the backlash.

As per Liz, here’s why AI Overviews gave those odd results — AI can often fail to detect humor and satire in content.

To minimize these instances and refine the quality of results fetched by AI Overviews, Google has already taken steps. Certain types of content (like UGC) will have lesser chances of showing up in AI Overviews.

“We’ll keep improving when and how we show AI Overviews and strengthen our protections, including for edge cases, and we’re very grateful for the ongoing feedback,” concludes Liz Reid.

The steps Google has taken so far — restricting AI Overviews to certain types of queries (especially reducing humor and satire-related content) — means we can expect to see AI Overviews working incredibly well in the near future, boosting users’ efficiency in finding exactly the information they want.

Preparing for the Future of Search and AI

We’ve already discussed some steps, both on-page and off-page, you can take to optimize for AI Overviews.

Taking this further, what can marketers do to stay ahead in this fast-changing search landscape?

AI or not, improving site speed and mobile responsiveness is a good bet. Optimize your site’s load time by compressing images, reducing server response times, eliminating render-blocking resources, and ensuring other performance-based technical SEO aspects are on point.

Implement responsive design so that your site is accessible and performs well on all devices. AI Overviews is bound to prioritize sites that offer a seamless mobile experience, considering the increasing volume of mobile users and Google’s existing mobile-first indexing approach.

Stay abreast of developments in AI and machine learning that impact SEO. Subscribe to leading SEO publishers — the likes of Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land — participate in industry conferences, and engage with community forums on Reddit. Keep experimenting with new AI tools that can provide insights into search trends, user behavior, and content optimization.

Test new SEO strategies and tools in controlled environments to understand their impact before full implementation. Ultimately, being open to change will help you stay competitive in these times, ensuring your strategies remain effective.

Anticipating the next wave of AI advancements in search, we can safely assume that Google’s Gemini model is set to revolutionize the way we interact with search engines, bringing a suite of advanced capabilities that enhance both the efficiency and effectiveness of Google Search. With its ability to perform multi-step reasoning, planning, and handle multimodal inputs, Gemini is not just an iterative improvement; it represents a significant leap forward in search technology.

Multi-step reasoning and planning means you can expect not just answers but well-planned responses that consider various aspects of a query. For instance, if you’re planning a trip, Gemini can aggregate and synthesize information across multiple domains to provide a comprehensive plan, rather than just answering isolated questions about travel destinations.

Multimodality, as discussed in the intro, means the AI model’s ability to process and integrate multiple types of data (text, images, audio, and video) enables Gemini to provide more nuanced and contextually relevant search results. This is especially useful in applications like Google Photos, where Gemini enhances the search functionality, allowing users to query their photo collections in complex new ways, such as finding images based on events or objects within them.

With over a million tokens in its context window, Gemini can handle extensive data sets, allowing it to deliver detailed and accurate information over a broad range of topics and languages. This makes it a powerful addition to search engines, facilitating better understanding and accessibility of information​.

As Gemini rolls out more widely (currently available in the US), its impact on SEO will be profound. Content creators and marketers will need to adapt their strategies to optimize for a search environment where accuracy, detail, and context are more important than ever. This includes refining SEO practices to align with its nuanced capabilities, ensuring that content is not only visible but also maximally useful for Google’s users.

Concluding Insights: Embracing Google AI for Digital Success

The integration of AI into Google Search is more than just a technical upgrade; it represents a shift towards a more intuitive, responsive, and effective tool for information retrieval.

This shift towards more interactive and responsive search features means brands must focus on creating content that engages users in a meaningful dialogue, anticipating user needs and questions more proactively. The ability of AI to parse and evaluate content based on quality metrics means that superficial or poorly researched content will perform increasingly poorly, perhaps to the point of extinction.

So, investing in high-quality content production and ethical SEO practices will pay dividends in an AI-dominated future. As Gemini and AI technology in general continues to advance, we can expect Google Search to become even more adept at understanding complex queries, predicting user needs, and delivering information that is precisely aligned with user intentions.

Shahid Abbasi

Shahid Abbasi is a senior technical SEO and content marketing lead at Growfusely, a SaaS content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO.

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